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Is Your Child Ready for College Math?

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By GreatSchools Staff

Look for Homework Clues

Wilson offers this advice to parents trying to evaluate their students' math instruction:

"If a student isn't bringing home work that requires lots of manipulation and lots of word problems, then there is probably a problem," he says. "If the homework requires, instead, lots of making tables, then there is probably a problem. If the work involves a lot of use of calculators there is probably a problem."

"Calculators have their role," he adds, "I would not want someone to go back to looking up log tables and trig tables, but for things that don't absolutely require a calculator, they should not use one."

If you notice any of these questionable practices in your child's math classroom, you may want to express your concerns to the teacher and the principal.

One other cautionary note: Beware of classes in which students are allowed to pass or progress because they complete extra credit rather than demonstrate through tests and classwork that they understand the concepts.

If you have a weak math background, don't let that get in the way of your child's learning. You don't have to know the math to get a good idea of how well your child will be prepared, says NCTM President Fennell. You can ask the teacher about the content of the class. "Ask, 'Will the calculus in college be different than this?'" he suggests. "Ask the teacher, 'What is the math? Is it a repeat of math that should have already been mastered?'"

What About Kids Who Want to Skip College?

Your teenager may insist that college isn't for her. She should know that students headed straight for the work force will need the same math skills as their college-bound counterparts, according to a 2006 study by the ACT.

The study looks at occupations that don't require a college degree but pay wages high enough to support a family of four. The math and reading skill levels required to work as an electrician, plumber or upholsterer were comparable to those needed to succeed in college.

Comments from readers

"How can you pass math if you don't learn it? Math problems begin in elementary school with poor math programs where children never master basic skills. If you don't understand addition and subtraction, you cannot do multiplication and division. Without the basics, algebra will be a mystery. Educators refuse to see the real problem and instead find excuses for poor math scores. "
"The bottom line is that many teachers never help the students learn how to THINK! Thinking is an obselete skill when in reality it is the only one necessary to be successful in math. Thinking has been replaced with repetition and regurgitation, none of which require much brain power. Not much is discussed of the why and how, rather emphasis is on the what only. Students who do poorly in math usually have poor thinking skills. Consider the nature of the problems on the math section on standardized tests. Half of them don't have anything to do with anything meaningful nor anything that the students has learned in a math class. Yet, these tests are supposed to predict the level of success a student is supposed to have in college math classes? The problems in the math section are testing only one thing - can the student think?"